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Egyptian Air Force in Action

The Arab-Israeli War of 1967 began on June 5, 1967, when Israeli airplanes attacked the Egyptian air force and destroyed many airfields. Israel's war plans put high priority on quick action against the Egyptian Air Force because of the threat to its own more vulnerable airfields and vital centers. The striking nature of the Israeli success reflected great superiority in maintenance, leadership, training and discipline rather than numerical superiority. Israeli intelligence was outstanding, having pinpointed the location of every Egyptian squadron, revealed the layout of every air base, and mastered every detail of Egyptian Air Force operational procedure.

During the course of the morning, the Israelis struck 18 of Egypt's Air Force bases, cratering runways, blowing up aircraft, and destroying support facilities. The Egyptians lost over 300 of their 420 combat aircraft, and 100 of their 350 qualified combat pilots. When the war did break out and the stunning news of the total collapse of the Egyptian Air Force reached the Egyptian GHQ in a quick sequence of disastrous reports, Marshall Hakim Amer, Nasser's deputy and Minister of Defense, ordered a general ground forces withdrawal from the Sinai. The successful Israeli surprise attack, which destroyed the main body of the Egyptian, Syrian and Jordanian Air Forces, opened the Arab ground forces to relentless air attacks and unhindered Israel ground forces pursuit.

By 1970, the combination of the EAF with Soviet flak defenses, formalized by Anwar Sadat after Nasser's death in September 1970, brought a stalemate. Egyptian and Israeli air forces used the War of Attrition to conduct major evaluations of technology. The Egyptian Air Force (EAF) accepted over 100 MiG-21s and hundreds of other aircraft from the Soviet Union to replace Egyptian aircraft that Israel had destroyed on the ground in its preemptive strike on Egypt at the outset of the Six-Day War. Throughout the war, the Soviets blamed Egyptian losses on operator cowardice or failure to understand Soviet training.

The Soviets began to supplement Egyptian pilots with their "volunteers." This probably required the use of Soviet ground controllers, since the Egyptians are not very effective in this area either, the language problem would seem to necessitate this and Soviet pilots have never been known to fly missions without using their own people for ground support. The Soviet aircraft-pilot-ground control option, however, ran a greater risk of significant escalation. In July 1970, the Soviet Union decided to "teach Israel a lesson" by patrolling the Canal Zone with MiG-21s. The Israelis responded by shooting down five Soviet MiGs on 30 July.

Unlike in 1967, when Egyptian troops had fought disgracefully, the Egyptian Army and Air Force had stood their ground against the superbly trained IAF, and the average Egyptian regained some lost pride.

When Egypt initiated the October 1973 War, the air force was much better prepared for its mission. Egypt's air reconnaissance along the Suez Canal and its air strikes against Israeli strong points provided essential support to the ground forces that were crossing the canal. The air force then shifted to Israeli targets in Sinai and engaged in frequent dogfights over Suez and Port Said. Despite the courage and competence of the pilots, Egypt's air force suffered the loss of more than 200 aircraft in eighteen days of combat. Egypt and Syria together lost an estimated twelve aircraft for every aircraft lost by Israel.




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